Bonus: They Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefé (2015) reviewed!

THEYCAMEFROMSWAMPNEWS Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, those dogged documentarians who have brought added value to such special edition Blu-ray/DVD releases as VCI Entertainment’s GORGO (1961) and THE NAME OF THE GAME IS KILL! (1968), Scream Factory’s THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970) and FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM (1987), Synapse Films’ TWINS OF EVIL (1971) and HANDS OF THE RIPPER (1971), Kino-Lorber’s MADHOUSE (1973), and Full Moon’s TOURIST TRAP (1979) and TRANCERS (1985) — among others — have gone longform with a retrospective look at the career of Florida filmmaker William Grefé. This two-disc collector’s edition includes not only Ballyhoo’s feature length documentary THEY CAME FROM THE SWAMP: THE FILMS OF WILLIAM GREFÉ (2015) but the bonus of Grefé’s penultimate theatrical film, WHISKEY MOUNTAIN (1977). I’ll wait here if you want to go order your copy now.

Mako-the-jaws-of-death-movie-poster You’re back? That was fast! Anycake, I first jumped aboard the Grefé train when I caught his 1976 film MAKO: JAWS OF DEATH (1976) on the CBS Late Night Movie. I was about 16 and I’d already seen JAWS (1975) — and Cornel Wilde’s SHARK’S TREASURE (1975) for that matter, and the Phil D’Antoni-produced NBC-TV movie SHARK KILL (1976); I saw all the shark movies — but I didn’t take it as a ripoff of the Spielberg movie (which it isn’t). Rather, it’s just a movie with sharks in it. If anything, MAKO: JAWS OF DEATH is a ripoff of Grefé’s earlier STANLEY (1972), which was a ripoff of WILLARD (1971) — all movies about alienated loners who use animals to strike back at the humans they think have wronged them. Even with MAKO – JAWS OF DEATH under my belt at an early age, it took me years to see another Grefé joint, though in the interim I read a lot about such offerings as DEATH CURSE OF TARTU (1966), about a Native American spirit zombie kind of guy who slaughters those who trespass upon his final un-resting place; and THE HOOKED GENERATION (1968), about drug smugglers who slaughter their business partners and anyone who happens to trespass upon their drug smuggling and slaughtering operation; and IMPULSE (1974), with William Shatner as kind of a conman/child molester/psycho-killer multi-hyphenate, who… does all of those things. These all sounded right up my alley. In those days, when I was only reading about Bill Grefé and hadn’t yet heard anyone pronounce his surname as “griff-AY” — the crucial l’accent aigu being conspicuous in its absence from most texts — I thought his name was pronounced “grief” … but that seemed appropriate, and still does, as his movies were/are about nothing so much as the grief that comes to people when they least expect and deserve it. death-curse-of-tartu-movie-poster-1966-1020489496 

THEY CAME FROM THE SWAMP: THE FILMS OF WILLIAM GREFÉ was clearly a labor of love for Ballyhoo head honcho/one man band Daniel Griffiths — you can tell because no less than three of the talking heads that he tracked down to sit in front of his camera to tell stories and sing the praises of Bill Grefé  have since passed away: exploitation filmmaker Dave F. Friedman, actor-director Ross Hagen (SUPERCOCK, THE GLOVE) and veteran movie weirdo John Davis Chandler (MAD DOG COLL and several Greféfilms), whose hand I got to shake at a retrospective screening a few years back at West Hollywood’s New Beverly Cinema of STANLEY and IMPULSE. Happily, Grefé himself is alive and kicking and his story — of how he went from being a Miami fireman who wrote screenplays in his downtime between brushfires to directing his first movie by accident to establishing himself as one of Florida’s premiere independent filmmakers to helping to craft a big budget James Bond movie — is a good one and the pertinent details (and a few impertinent ones) are here in THEY CAME FROM THE SWAMP. My favorite stories include the one in which Bill Shatner recounts nearly killing Harold “Oddjob” Sakata during the making of IMPULSE because he mistook a slowly strangling Sakata’s jerking for acting, of how an actor on the cast list of THE HOOKED GENERATION pretended to go psycho on a family of pleasure-boaters and drew down the wrath of the Florida State Police on the rest of the cast and crew, and of how Grefé assuaged the fears of a herpetophobic Alex Rocco on location for STANLEY about diving into a swimming pool full of snakes and then made him do it anyway. stanley-1972-snake-horror-movie-alex-rocco-water-moccasins-death Watching  THEY CAME FROM THE SWAMP is like hanging out with a bunch of crusty war veterans at a VFW bar and listening to their combat stories. If you’re older, as I am, you miss the days when genre movies were made by guys who came from nothing, were working class or military veterans, who had real jobs for years before they made movies and real life experience to bring to those movies, even when the movies themselves were flyweight, goofy, popcorn munchers with little apparent artistic merit but were never less than entertaining as fuck,  pardon my French. Genre filmmaking has gotten so insular, so elite, so SXSW, and we will never again have that depth, that gravitas; no, instead we get deep dish cynicism and pathologically realistic violence and sexual trauma, because if there’s one thing prized by people who’ve never been anywhere and never done anything it’s authenticity. Sorry, I’m going off on a rant; I’m getting mad and I only came her to love. Just give me a minute. p45367_p_v8_aa

Not only does THEY CAME FROM THE SWAMP tell the story of one man and his very unique way of paying his rent and raising his family but it also becomes a veritable master class on the way movies used to be made and marketed. Tied to the Bill Grefé story is the story of Crown International Films, film distributors and one-time business partners of American International Pictures, who when given the bum’s rush by AIP (who decided they could distribute their own movies, thank you very much), went into the film-making business and, of course, into partnership with Bill Grefé. When Grefé changed the focus of his proposed stock car drama PIT STOP due to the unparalleled success of AIP’s biker flick THE WILD ANGELS (1966) and decided to make his own biker movie, Crown International gave THE WILD REBELS (1967) the full court press and it remains one of Grefé’s biggest hits. Key also to the bigger story are the glorious vagaries of regional filmmaking, and of how Grefé was able to snag top Hollywood talent (okay, top-ish Hollywood talent) because the players were living/had vacation homes in — or, in the cast of William Shatner, were just passing through — Florida. One of the greatest stories of THE CAME FROM  THE SWAMP  is how Grefé made THE GODMOTHERS (1975), an unbelievable pastiche of THE GODFATHER (1972) pitched to children starring part-time Fort Lauderdale resident Mickey Rooney. (I haven’t yet seen THE GODMOTHERS but from the clips provided it makes Jerry Lewis’ CRACKING UP look like AU HASARD BALTHAZAR.)

s-l1000I haven’t even said anything about STING OF DEATH, Grefé’s movie about a predatory jelly fish man, or his work with Ivan Tors, or his involvement in the 1972 James Bond movie LIVE AND LET DIE, or how Henry Silva was his first choice to star in MAKO: JAWS OF DEATH and that Silva wanted to do it but there was One Big Problem… but I’ve already said too much. See THEY CAME FROM THE SWAMP: THE FILMS OF WILLIAM GREFÉ and hear these stories for yourself. The documentary itself is worth the price of admission but Ballyhoo has gone the extra mile of throwing in a helpful 17-minute featurette about the history of Crown International Pictures (still in business!), deleted scenes, short films made by Grefé’ for the Bacardi rum conglomerate (one shot on location in Puerto Rico and starring William Shatner himself), a 10-minute promotional film for MAKO: JAWS OF DEATH (“Stare into terror… if you can!”) and more. But the ultimate “extra” in this deluxe 2-disc set is the feature length WHISKEY MOUNTAIN (1977), Grefé’s final film as a director before being sidelined by his association with Bacardi (a belated final feature would follow in 1991), starring a post-GRIZZLY Christopher George as a weekender who is set upon with his wife and friends by hillbillies when trespassing on hillbilly territory, with a theme song by Charlie Daniels, who took time to write an original song for a low budget DELIVERANCE ripoff because he had cut his pluckin’ finger opening a walnut and… Well, that’s a whole nuther story! Quick, see WHISKEY MOUNTAIN before the hipsters ruin it!

To order THEY CAME FROM THE SWAMP: THE FILMS OF WILLIAM GREFÉ directly from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures for the reasonable price of $29.95, click here. That’s less than the price of four hipster beers!

View the trailer if you can!


1 Response Bonus: They Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefé (2015) reviewed!
Posted By WILIAM GREFE : May 11, 2016 2:57 pm

HI RICHARD AND ALL AT MOVIEMORLOCKS THANKS FOR THE REVIEW ON “THEY CAME FROM THE SWAMP it is nice to know you guys appreciate us old GRINDHOUSE directors thanks again BEST Bill [ William Grefe }

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